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2016 Field School Graduate: Harbin Hill Farms

Richard Calkins, of Mountain City, founded Harbin Hill Farm this past year after retiring from the World Bank.  Calkins was originally born in Ohio and has lived in Northern Virginia for the past 45 years, before finding a retirement home in Mountain City.

img_20160723_100005Harbin Hills Farm is about three miles outside of town on what is said to be one of the flattest parcels in all of Johnson County. The land is 42 acres total, 26 in woods and 16 in pastures and crop land.

“My business model is focused on market gardening,” said Calkins, “using an intensive and organic approach to grow a wide range of fruits and vegetables.”

Harbin Hill Farms is planning to launch a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program beginning next spring. CSA involves people within the community supporting local farmers. Participants buy a subscription in a local farmers’ produce, which includes a box of freshly-picked local fruits and vegetables each week, typically for 20 weeks. The customers pay up front, which provides the farmer with the cash flow needed in the spring for seeds, fertilizer and other inputs. It also helps the farmer’s bottom line, as his CSA products are “pre-sold”.  

“In Johnson County this may take more of a marketing effort, because people aren’t as familiar with the concept as they are in more established markets like Jonesborough, Asheville, Abingdon or Boone,” said Calkins. 

This is Harbin Hill Farms’ first year of operations. It has been a lifelong dream of Calkins to start farming. Before he moved to Mountain City, he had raised a few tomato plants, but had absolutely no experience as a market gardener.img_20160726_195126

“I have benefited enormously from the “beginning farmers” support groups in this region, such as the ARC&D Field School,” said Calkins. “For beginning farmers, there are quite a number of resources out there to help. It is important to reach out and take advantage of them.”   

On the second field visit of the Field School Class, he saw a hoophouse on a farm near Rogersville. This inspired him to build his own hoophouse, which he completed this last spring. In order to share what he has learned, he has agreed to be the December farm visit for the upcoming Field School class. In fact, he is ordering two more hoophouses, and hopes to have them under construction by the time they visit.

“The more you know, the fewer mistakes you make, so I have tried to get as much knowledge as possible,” said Calkins, who has also been “interning” on a market-gardening operation near Jonesboro managed by one of his Field School classmates.  

Since July, Calkins has been selling his produce at the Johnson County Farmers Market.  Once that market closes, he will begin selling from his own “on-farm” market, as well as the Boone Street Market in Jonesboro. In addition to offering CSA subscriptions next spring, he also hopes to begin selling to local restaurants and to develop agri-tourism activities such as a fall pumpkin festival.  

To learn more, visit the Harbin Hill Farms’ Facebook page.

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